A couple months ago, my students and I wrapped up a series of essays on gender roles and expectations. We read several essays and discussed all types of topics including society’s gendered perceptions of power and leadership, the father’s role in households, the lack of women in STEM fields, and the heteronormative stereotypes that creep into same-sex relationships. We even discussed Facebook’s feature that offers users 58 sexual orientation options to choose from when signing up for a new account.
Toward the end of the unit, we looked at the cultural messages society gives us on what it means to be masculine or feminine, which led to the following question:
What does it really mean to be a man?
When it comes to the word man, many people say things like “a man is someone with integrity and stands up for what he believes in.” Well, that sounds good. The problem though is that my twelve-year-old son and my grandmother all have integrity and stand up for what they believe in, but they are not men.
The problem that occurs when others try to define manhood is lack of context. Lots of words in our language have multiple meanings, and the word man is no different. It’s like trying to define the word right. Definitions change when considering the context of direction (right as opposed to left), the context of entitlement (right as opposed to privilege), or the context of validity/morality (right as opposed to wrong).
So when I explain manhood to others, my explanation changes based on context:
- The context of gender (man as opposed to woman)
- The context of age (man as opposed to boy)
- The context of species (man as opposed to animal)
So, again…what does it mean to be a man?
The people who ask me this question usually do so because of this Joker to King website or because of my Joker to King book. That’s why I answer in a fourth context: the context of maturity and responsibility (man as opposed to guy).
So when I’m asked to define manhood in one simple sentence, I now respond:
Unlike a guy, a man is someone who protects, provides, and presides for his family.
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
For me, those are the three pillars of manhood. It has worked for me in all of my conversations. (For these three pillars of manhood, I must give credit to Ryan Michler, founder of Order of Man, on whose podcast I first heard these three pillars explained.) Also, Brett McKay, the author and founder of the Art of Manliness website, did a really good job explaining The Three P’s of Manhood (although Mr. McKay takes a more historical/anthropological approach to manhood, substituting the word procreate for preside.)
I don’t want to spend too much time here expanding on each of the three pillars separately. I’ll just explain each pillar in a few sentences.
To protect means to defend, making sure loved ones are as safe as possible. Some men don’t feel completely confident in their abilities to protect their families, and that’s understandable because our society of convenience has made our lives increasingly comfortable. However, it’s still important for men to do what they can to continue developing themselves. Physical growth is necessary for men to physically defend families if needed, but also to just physically remain healthy and present in their loved ones’ lives. Being a protector also means defending one’s family from financial, spiritual, and emotional attacks as well. A man can’t consider himself a protector if he allows his family to be bullied, abused, and taken advantage of by others.
To provide means to contribute or produce sustenance for one’s family. Our society of convenience no longer requires us to hunt for food and shelter. Sustenance comes as easily as a drive to the nearest supermarket. However, being a provider means contributing all types of sustenance to the family. Men not only provide for their families financially, but men also provide guidance, wisdom, stability, instruction, courage, trust, honor, tradition and a host of other things for their families.
To preside means to serve as a leader. The key word in that sentence is serve. This does not mean becoming a dictator with totalitarian dominion over loved ones. To preside means to serve others through sacrifice, taking on the burdens that come with making the difficult leadership decisions. Being a leader is not all about dispensing punishments and telling people what to do. That’s not a leader…that’s a tyrant. By definition, a leader is someone who actually has followers. Let me make that clear. Leaders have followers; tyrants have subjects. Tyrants have people who begrudgingly follow because they are afraid of punishment. Leaders have people who willingly follow because the leaders provide vision and direction.
So for me, the three things that men are called to do are to protect, provide, and preside. Throughout time and across geographic boundaries, cultures worldwide have called upon men to take on these three tasks. As we embody the three roles of protector, provider, and presider, we develop more fully into powerful men, the type of men who charismatically influence others, the type of men who our families depend on, and the type of men the world needs us to be.